Monday, 11 October 2010


"Excuse me, sir. Can I help you?"
"No. I'm fine, thanks." I was sat, reading a pulp science fiction novel in paperback, waiting for a plane that I had just found out had been delayed for forty-five minutes.
"This is a restaurant." He informed me curtly, the implication clear.
"No, this is an airport."
"This is not an airport," he insisted. "This is a restaurant."
"How odd, then," I mused. "To see all those aeroplanes just beyond the window, and why does that screen just above us list all those destinations, departure times ...?"
"The restaurant has nothing to do with the airport."

The problem with Copenhagen Kastrup Airport is that there are in fact no seats anywhere that are not connected to some sort of food vendor. Therefore the implication of the above conversation is that the passenger awaiting his flight must purchase some horrendously over-priced comestibles in order to earn the right to sit and read and wait.

Connecting these eateries are a number of very narrow walkways, in imitation perhaps of the winding, boutique-lined streets of parts of the town's medieval inner city. Due to the enormous crowds and vast profusion of signs, the glare of lights, the feeling, however, weighed downed by hand luggage, is of being hustled and assaulted by brands and bustling shoppers from all angles.

In contrast to the still relatively anonymous spaces of most southern European airports, the shops and food and drink vendors of Kastrup are almost all connected to well-known brand names: Starbucks Coffee, Domino's Pizza....

Airports remain the classic example of the non-places diagnosed in Marc Augé's book on the "anthropology of supermodernity", spaces "to be passed through ... measured in units of time." Augé's book (first published in 1992), with its line about "a person entering the space of non-place [being] relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer, or driver" seemed eerily prophetic on that morning in August, 2006, when the thwarting of an alleged terror attack in London led to pandemonium at Britain's airports, while passengers were stripped of all their possessions bar wallet and passport. "You can't un-invent the liquid bomb" we were told as bottles of water, that near ubiquitous modern accessory became, for the first time, a potential weapon of mass destruction.

What sticks in the mind from that time was the absolute comic book absurdity of the situation. The paperback book I kept in my jacket book was confiscated because, as the security official said, I might have concealed something amongst its pages, like in some Boy's Own adventure story.

"Due to security reasons, and the risk of theft, please do not leave your baggage unattended at any time."
Augé tells us that that the non-places of supermodernity are defined by their words and texts, their "instructions for use". What is astonishing about the above announcement is the curious reminder of how unusual the second clause is in this now oppressively over-familiar demand. I could even detect a slight lift to the tone of voice of the announcer at this reminder of the possibility of crime, as if to say, "Look on the bright side, you might not get blown to pieces by a dirty bomb or tortured into a false confession in some far-away prison - you might just be the victim of a simple theft!"

In a way, for an aiport totally colonised by the ethics of the shopping centre (just as shopping centres were long ago colonised by the aesthetics of airports), having your luggage stolen from you really is the greatest possible boon - offering you the chance to re-purchase all that you have just lost in an ecstatic Groundhog Day of consumerism.